We know our water cycle is being altered by changing climate so a focus on water security and diversifying sources will be critical for restoring and growing our natural environment. In Australia, water scarcity is accelerating which means ensuring system resilience against the impacts of water shortages is crucial, especially in times of drought and bushfires.
“The water industry has always been driven by the changes in climate, which continue to threaten our natural water cycle, impacting urban water supply, agricultural sector and natural ecosystems,” says Marina Maxwell, WSP’s Team Manager, Water Treatment. “Our challenge is that communities typically rely on a single source for their drinking water supply, either surface water or groundwater, both of which are climate dependant.
“But what happens when the rainfall isn’t there and the quality of source water deteriorates? How do we cope with more frequent bushfires which leave our catchments and water bodies contaminated? Unfortunately, water utilities do not always have sufficient facilities, people or processes to effectively respond, handle or manage these extreme circumstances. However, there are ways to prepare and build back better through diversification of water supply sources to provide more resilient water supply systems for when extreme events do happen.”
We know the pattern of years of drought followed by heavy rainfall and flooding in Australia will present a constant challenge to our communities. Towns like Stanthorpe which recently made news for having run out of water, are not isolated examples, with the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia and the Hunter region in NSW including many remote areas and Indigenous communities, all facing severe challenges when it comes to their water supplies.
“Helping our clients build a diverse portfolio of water sources which are sustainable and cost-effective for the community and environment, supported by forward-thinking water management and sustainable investment policies, is crucial for building resilience” says Grant Gabriel, WSP’s Associate Water Supply Engineer.
“We are working closely with our clients across Australia to investigate and diversify their water source assets with climate independent water sources, such as seawater desalination and recycled water.”
Communities across Australia turned to desalination as one strategy to meet the impacts of the Millennium drought. Ten years on, Australia is in the grip of another significant drought, with the next round of desalination plants being planned and implemented as an insurance policy for our water security.
“I believe that the planning of the next wave of plants must adopt a framework which focuses on transparent, cost-effective and robust project development and considers the key barriers experienced and lessons learnt from previous desalination plant projects.
“Ultimately, desalination is just one solution our clients can include in their water mix which might include restrictions, recycled water systems, indirect potable re-use, and aquifer recharge.”